At dinner, Julie announced, “When Will goes off to school, I’m done.” The words stunned me, and I didn’t know what to say.
Julie has never liked to cook, but with my prior work schedule, she was the chief cook and always made sure that the kids had something to eat for dinner. After 25 years of meal preparation, she felt that she had paid her dues, and she was done.
For those of you who are also my Facebook friends, you know that I’m a competent cook. For years I have posted my weekly adventures teaching my kids to plan and cook a meal, which I listed under the byline, “Cooking With Dad Thursdays.” Therefore, there shouldn’t be a problem with me preparing my own meals once our youngest child was off to college. However, Julie’s cessation of making dinner was a big problem for me. Not because of the mechanics of meal preparation, but for issues more central to who I am.
We all have ways that we express love and concern to others, and we all have ways that we feel the love and concern from those around us. One of the most important ways that I both express and feel love is through acts of service. I think it is nice if someone tells me that they love me, but it is by actions where such claims ring true to me. For me, the act of making dinner was synonymous with love.
Like most humans, I have an intellectual side and an emotional side, and these two personas are not always in sync. Intellectually, I knew that Julie didn’t like to cook and that I was completely capable of fending for myself. However, my emotional side felt differently. Every meal that she prepared was a tangible way of her demonstrating that she cared about me. My emotional side was hurt and confused.
In the past, I would overrule any emotional feeling intellectually. I would convince myself that my feelings were trivial and unimportant. I would shame myself into compliance. However, I now recognized that my emotional self is just as important as my intellectual self. Emotions are not logical, but they are valid.
I didn’t immediately respond to Julie’s pronouncement; I paused. I wanted to know if my emotional hurt would pass; it didn’t. I knew that I had to address my concerns, and these are the steps that I used to resolve my problem:
- I searched for my feelings. Why was I feeling the way I did? In my emotional mind, I felt unimportant. These feelings were countered by my intellectual self, which knew otherwise. However, since they persisted, I knew that I had to address them.
- I pondered what I needed. Did I need Julie to cook dinner seven nights a week? Certainly not. However, once in a blue moon wouldn’t cut it for me.
- What was I willing to give in return? I would be ready to return the favor by making her nice dinners regularly.
- How would I approach this problem?
- With honesty.
- By telling her how I felt.
- By not blaming or intimidating her.
- By moving towards a mutually beneficial compromise, rather than a win.
- By listening to her concerns, and giving her potential solutions equal weight to mine.
- I did the above when we both had time to talk and process. It would make no sense to have this discussion when Julie was walking out of the door or when she came home from a long day of work.
When we talked, I acknowledged that my feelings weren’t logical, but they were real. I told her how important it was to have her make dinner for me, and I explained to her that it was a way that demonstrated her love for me. However, I also stated that I was open and willing to hear her feelings and very ready to come up with a solution that was beneficial to both of us.
We looked at our weekly schedule. On Fridays, we always have delivery pizza, so that day was covered. Saturdays we often go out to eat. Also, Julie noted that she didn’t want to cook on the 3-4 weekdays that she worked.
It looked like Sunday and Monday were open. Either day would support both meal preparation as well as time to eat together.
Julie said she would be willing to make dinner on Mondays, and I said that I would take over Sunday meal prep. Now that the kids were out of the house, I transitioned my “Cooking With Dad Thursdays” Facebook segment into one called “Simple Sunday Suppers.”
Last Sunday, I made a tossed salad, pecan-crusted tilapia, fresh green beans, and rice pilaf. It sounds complicated, but it was straightforward. Last Monday Julie made a Trader Joe’s stuffed salmon loaf, roasted asparagus, and a salad. Both meals were delicious, but more importantly, we celebrated them as we ate together.
It is imperative to recognize emotional needs, even if they seem illogical. Sometimes it is not possible to have those needs met, and it is crucial to accept that fact. Often a compromise that meets both party’s objectives is better than a one-sided win. Solutions that benefit all individuals are more likely to be successful than options where one person has to “give-in” to the other.
The best approach to solving an emotional need problem is to thoroughly search your feeling to discover what the core issue is. In my case, it was more about being valuable to Julie than getting a prepared meal. Once you know what you are dealing with, it is then imperative to talk to the other person honestly and respectfully. Always be willing to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and compromise.
I like making dinner on Sundays, and it feels great to have a meal prepared for me on Mondays. I think Julie benefits too. Making dinner one night a week is not a significant burden on her, and she has the additional benefit of having me make her a nice Sunday supper.
Continue reading My Simple Guide To Resolving Marital Conflicts and Work Conflicts